One of the most important skills that children who are blind or visually impaired need to acquire early on is “orientation” and “mobility” — sometimes referred to as “O & M.”
Orientation refers to knowing where the child is within a given geographic space and where he or she wants to go within the home, community, and world. For example, if she wants to go from the kitchen to the living room, she needs to know the relationship between the kitchen and the living room. A more complex orientation would be to go from home to school or to go shopping. He needs to understand the relationship between where he is (such as home) and where he wants to go (school or school bus stop). This is a complex activity that for the brain to learn but blind and visually impaired people learn to do this successfully with training and practice. Just as there are multiple ways for sighted people to navigate (maps, GPS, or reading street signs), there are multiple and well-accepted ways for the visually impaired and blind to learn orientation skills.
Mobility refers to the ability to move safely and effectively from one place to another. Mobility involves using tools to substitute for the sense of sight in order to avoid tripping or falling, crossing streets, and finding one’s way. These can range from the familiar white cane, to seeing-eye dogs, to echo location techniques.
An Orientation and Mobility Specialist (O&M) is an expert in teaching people these skills throughout their lifespan as needed. Typically, a nationally certified O&M specialist will be a part of your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) team.
Learning orientation and mobility skills involves the use of all senses as well as specific tools in order to confidently navigate safely and effectively.
Finding an O & M Specialist
The ability of your child to move independently and with safety and confidence through his or her environment is a critical element in human development and independence for all people – regardless of whether they have a disability.
Orientation and Mobility (O&M) specialists teach children who have visual impairments the specific orientation skills used to find one’s way in the environment and the mobility skills needed to travel safely and efficiently at home, school, work, and in the community.
As part of developing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), families will be connected to an Orientation & Mobility (O&M) specialist through their local school district. This specialist will become part of the IEP team that helps blind and visually children at various age and developmental points.
Instruction by an O&M specialist is usually provided one-on-one and can include skills such as how to use a long white cane, the operation of low vision devices and electronic travel aids when appropriate, how to orient oneself to new environments, navigate public transportation systems, how to cross streets safely, and traveling by using hearing, remaining vision, and other senses.
As a parent or guardian of a child who is blind or has visual impairments, the good news is that you don’t have to find the specialists yourself. Special education in each school district will be able to provide one or more names of O&M specialists in your community.
- VisionAware.org. This is a website cosponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind and the Readers Digest Partners for Sight. Go to: http://www.visionaware.org/info/everyday-living/essential-skills/an-introduction-to-orientation-and-mobility-skills/123